The Story of the Unique Jaguar XJ-S SS
We spotted this beautiful one-off XJS hatchback at the March Jaguar Breakfast Club meet at the British Motor Museum (just before the lockdown). Intrigued by the scope and quality of the conversion we tracked down the owner Mike Sharman to find out more.
Graham Eason (XJS Workshop): What XJS do you own and how long have you owned it?
Mike Sharman: I was a Jaguar apprentice so before I bought this car I owned my childhood dream for 10 years – a 1993 4 litre facelift big bumper model. I bought this 1987 pre-facelift HE V12 auto in April 2015 to restore because it needed saving and I knew I had another hatchback project in me. And it had to be two-tone grey, like the TWR advert. Before I bought it the car had been dry stored for 16 years awaiting repair, but the owner had become too ill to do it. My car is in Dorchester Grey over Talisman Silver.
GE: Can you describe the modifications?
MS: This XJ-S is a TWR Sport, not a TWR or a JaguarSport. So it was a standard coupe that customers could elect to have TWR modifications added to at select TWR Dealers. So it came with the body kit, steering wheel and a rare set of Fondmetal 16 inch lattice wheels. They look great in side profile but I felt were too narrow for the body kit. I did run the car for a while with those on, but decided I had to have the right TWR Aero wheels. So I bought back my old XJS race car wheels from a friend. These had to have 6mm spacers fitted up front to clear the lower knuckle and inner arches on lock.
The other major modification is, of course, the addition of the tailgate. This involved merging an upside down Audi TT Mk1 frame into the original boot panel. This was done by expert and local Jaguar car club member and excellent tin smith, James Sidwell. He’s now retired. I designed my own fuel tank to suit the original boot floor without modifications so that it would fit below a flat floor that also contains a single piece folding rear seat. It is slightly bigger for the 5.3 from the 4 litre drawings I had previously. Jaguar never considered a hatchback from what I can ascertain, but it could have been ahead of its time perhaps? The wood is Jaguar new old stock, which was a lucky find – I was in the right place at the right time and paid the right price!
As the standard exhaust was not as loud as the body kit so I replaced the centre silencers with straight through pipes, which most say gives it a seriously throaty sound. But I’m not so keen on it. But it matches the body kit now and you know it’s coming! I might do more on that with SimplyPerformance in the future.
GE: Why did you decide to modify it?
MS: It all started with a sketch I did as a third year Jaguar apprentice in 1983 of a hatchback pre-facelift. I much prefer the sleek lines of the facelift, but decided if I didn’t do a second car I might regret it. So I let my wife know the plan and she agreed that as long as I sold the first car I could have another project. I didn’t sell the first car until May 2018, so I did well really – and I’m still married!
GE: What was the car like when you bought it?
MS: It looked ok in the eBay photos – it’s amazing what a wash can do to lift appearances. But I could tell from the photos that there was some serious rust in the car, so much so that I think anyone else would probably have broken it for spares. This was the third two-tone I’d seen and it was the one that I said to myself “I’m going to have to do this.” If I didn’t know James Sidwell then I doubt I’d have taken it on. He won’t do another one for me now, because it was that much work! It was a good price as a project or to break so I would have come out even.
GE: Who did the work and why did you choose them?
MS: I did all the planning and drawings and I took the car apart. I also sourced the parts and coordinated the project. But the real skills is bodywork and for that, if you want to get it done right, you have to use the best. For me, without question, that was James. I am Coventry born and bred and I wanted to keep things local. So for paint I chose Autosurgery because I had seen some work that they had done on a Porsche and other high end cars. They did an excellent job, taking their time and being thorough.
For the trim I had to wait a long time for an ex-Jaguar trimmer called Pete Fullerton and his one-man Coventry Automotive Trim to be available to spend a good few weeks on the car. I changed the carpet colour from grey to red wine. There was also a lot of work on the very dry and split door cards and seats, particularly the rear seats which I’d cut into four pieces to suit the fold down. Pete does an excellent job as you can see and for a good price too! I also had the trim refurbished and recoloured by a local trim repairer, Craig Denton, who was suggested by Pete as he thought the door cards were scrap!
GE: How did you design the modifications?
MS: James and I learnt a lot from the from the first hatchback. I got the tailgate’s adjustable gas struts in a better position on this car so that the tailgate doesn’t come down as sharply as on SS #1. Surprisingly, there was a lot of subtle differences in the drawings I did for the first car, but they were a good starting point.
GE: Did you have any particular problems with the modifications?
MS: Not really. I didn’t hesitate in cutting out the parcel shelf and rear squab panel based on prior experience. There wasn’t a lot of parcel shelf left anyway. Some of the trim was a challenge to think about when I boarded the boot area – leaving tolerance for trim when I didn’t really know how it would go together.
Pete couldn’t envisage the trim prior to me completing the fabrications but I think he was impressed with my woodwork. But it’s only basic stuff, nothing serious. The tailgate took a lot of time and there were a lot of repairs needed on the rest of the body too, due to the dreaded tin worm. So I was very thankful to James and glad that he kept going.
GE: Have you owned an other XJS or modified XJS?
MS: I’ve mentioned the SS #1 and I still like that car a lot, possibly more than this one because it’s a facelift. But this car – SS #2 – is special because it has all the qualities and colours that I’d imagined including like the black chrome. So it is like I specified the car when new, just 31 years later! And it is a thirsty V12 and surprisingly quick for an old, heavy car. A manual gearbox might be nice too. I wonder…
GE: Can you explain the ‘SS’ badges?
MS: I was aware of a Paul Banham modified XJ-S, which he named XJ-SS. I completed the first car the very month – September 2010 - that Jaguar was celebrating 75 years since Swallow Sidecars was established (the Blackpool-based forerunner of Jaguar Cars). So it seemed appropriate to call it ‘SS’ in honour of that. But it could also be ‘Sharman Sidwell’ after the creators. But I think Sharman Special is where I’m at, now there’s a fleet of two!
GE: What reaction do you get to the car?
MS: Mostly surprise. People look and walk around the car and get to the back and then take a step back. They know something isn’t right, but it looks right! (GE: this was definitely my response to the car). The quality of the finish is also a good talking point too. Thanks for your time Mike. You can see this car at the regular monthly Jaguar Breakfast Club (which we support) at Gaydon on the first Saturday morning of each month (when there’s no lockdown).
Graham Eason, XJS Workshop. 01527 893733